Engineering Windows 7

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Follow-up: Starting, Launching, and Switching

Follow-up: Starting, Launching, and Switching

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Lots of discussion on the taskbar and associated user interface.  Chaitanya said he thought it would be a good idea to summarize some of the feedback and thoughts.  --Steven

We’d like to follow up on some themes raised in comments and email.  This post looks at some observations on consistent feedback expressed (though not universal) and also provides some more engineering / design context for some of the challenges expressed.

First it is worth just reinforcing a few points that came up that were consistently expressed:

  • Many of you agree that the Notification Area needs to be more manageable and customizable. 
  • We received several comments about rearranging taskbar buttons.  This speaks to the need for a predictable place where taskbar buttons appear as well as your desire for more control over the taskbar.
  • There were comments that talked about Quick Launch being valuable, but that it could stand to be an even better launching surface (e.g. larger by default or more room).
  • Thumbnails are valuable to many of you, but their size doesn’t always help you find the window you are looking for.  There is interest in a better identification method of windows that consistently provided the right amount of information.
  • Better scaling of supported windows was discussed.  This includes optimizing the taskbar for more windows and spanning multiple displays. 


Several of you asked about the conclusions we are drawing from the data we collect and how we will proceed.

@Computermensch writes “The problem with this "analysis" (show me the data) is that you're only managing current activities surrounding the taskbar. So with respect "to evolving the taskbar" you're only developing it within its current operational framework while developing or evolution of really should refer to developing the taskbars concept.” 

@Bluvg posts “What if the UI itself was a reason that people didn't run more than 6-9 windows?  In other words, what if the UI has a window number upper bound of effectiveness?  Prioritizing around that 6-9 scenario would be taking away the wrong conclusion from the data, if that were the case.  The UI itself would be dictating the data, rather than being driven by user demand.”

As we’ve said in all our posts around the data we collect and how we use it, data do not translate directly into our features, but informs the decisions.  Information we collect from instrumentation as well as from customer interviews merely provides us with real-world accuracy of how a product is currently used.  The goal is not necessarily to just design for the status quo.  However, we must recognize that if a new design emerges that does not satisfy the goals and behavior of our customers today, we risk resistance.  This is not to say one should never innovate and change the game—just that to do so must be respectful of the ultimate goal of the customer.  Offering a new solution to a problem is great; just make sure you’re solving the right problem and that there is a path from where people are today to where you think the better solution resides.  With that said, rest assured that our design process recognizes the need for the taskbar to scale more efficiently for larger sets of windows.  This would allow those who possibly feel “trapped” in the 6-9 window case to more comfortably venture to additional windows, if they really require it.  Also, the improvements we make to the 90% case should still hold benefits to the current outliers. 

Notification Area

With so much feedback, it is always valuable to recognize when customer comments converge.  The original post called out the problems with the Notification Area and these issues were further emphasized with your thoughts.

@Jalf writes “Having 20 icons and a balloon notification every 30th second taking up space at the taskbar where it's *always* taking up space is just not cool. By all means, the information should be there if I need it, but can't we just assume that if I don't actively look for the information, it's probably because I don't want it.

Jalf’s comment is particularly interesting because it speaks to both the pros and cons of notifications.  They certainly can be valuable, but they can also very easily overwhelm the customer as many of you note.  A careful balance therefore must be reached such that the customer is kept informed of information that is relevant while she continues to remain in control.  Since relevant is relative, the need for control is fundamental.  Rest assured we are aware of the issues and we are taking them very seriously.

Multi-mon Support

It comes as no surprise that many of you wrote to discuss multi-monitor support for the taskbar. This is a popular request from our enthusiasts (and our own developers) and was called out as an area of investigation in the original post. 

@Justausr is very direct with this comment: “The lack of multi-monitor support is just about a crime.  We've seen pictures of Bill Gate's office and his use of 3 monitors.  Most developers have 2 monitors these days.  Why was multi-monitor support for the taskbar missing?  Once again, this is an example of the compartmentalization of the Windows team and the lack of a user orientation in defining and implementing features.  The fact that this is even a "possible" and not an "of course we're going to..." shows that you folks STILL don't get it.”

At least in this particular case we tend to think we “get it”, but we also tend to think that the design of a multi-mon taskbar is not as simple as it may seem.  As with many features, there is more than one way to implement this one.  For example, some might suggest a unique taskbar that exists on each display and others suggest a taskbar that spans multiple displays.  Let’s look at both of these approaches.  While doing so also keep in mind the complexities of having monitors of different sizes, orientations, and alignments. 

If one was to implement a taskbar for each display where each bar only contained windows for its respective portion of the desktop, some issues arise.  Some customers will cite advantages of less mouse travel since there is always a bar at the bottom on their screen.  However, such a design would now put the onus on the customer to track where windows are.  Imagine looking for a browser window and instead of going to a single place, you now had to look across multiple taskbars to find the item you want.  Worse yet, when you move a window from one display to another, you would have to know to look in a new place to find it.  This might seem at odds with the request to rearrange taskbar buttons because customers want muscle memory of their buttons.  It would be like having two remotes with dynamically different  functionality for your TV. This is one of the reasons that almost every virtual desktop implementation keeps a consistent taskbar despite the desktop you are working on.  

Another popular approach is a taskbar that spans multiple desktops.  There are a few third-party tools that attempt to emulate this functionality for the Windows taskbar.  The most obvious advantage of this approach (as well as the dual taskbar) is that there is more room offered for launching, switching and whispering.  It is fairly obvious that those customers with multiple displays have more room to have more windows open simultaneously and hence, require even more room on their taskbar.  Some of our advanced customers address this issue by increasing the height of the taskbar to reveal multiple rows.  Others ask for a spanning taskbar.  The key thing to recognize is that the problem is not necessarily that the taskbar doesn’t span, but that more room is required to show more information about windows.  So, it stands to reason that we should come up with the best solution to this problem, independent of how many displays the customer has. 

We thought it would be good to just offer a brief discussion on the specifics of solving this design problem as it is one we have spent considerable time on.  One of the approaches in general we are working to do more of, is to change things when we know it will be a substantial improvement and not also introduce complexities that outweigh the benefits we are trying to achieve.

Once again, many thanks for your comments.  We look forward to talking soon.

- Chaitanya

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  • There's so much useful stiff on the Taskbar. The first thing I want is to request is please, treasure the WMP toolbar. I often move my taskbar to the side so that I can fit more programs without grouping occuring, and I notice that the WMP toolbar wasn't built for that orientation and gets a little awkward. Whatever you do, just don't get rid of it. Another thing that I treasure in my taskbar is the Desktop folder menu -- I navigate to all my files from there rather than go through the start menu.

    As we speak of making tasks and information easier to access, let me offer a reminder that a hover is so much more satisfying than having to click. I believe that if we're allowed to hover over our QuickLaunch, or over our Desktop or other folder menus, or over program groups, or even over Windows accelerators if we use them, and receive a flyout of options rather than clicking a little arrow beside them, things would be easy and space could be saved.

  • I assume this is the same team that manages the start menu. My only request is that you allow us to put ANY folder we want in the quick list on the right, instead of just Pictures and Music and Games.

    I also would like to say that the frequently used programs list in the start menu always has the exact program I need -- I would love to see this excellent work extended to recently or frequently used items (documents). Whether they're added to the end of that programs list, or intermingled with the programs in that list, or is somehow off to the side, I think being able to reach recent items as quickly as we can reach frequent apps would be very useful.

  • I think you guys are on the right track (though of course you have to balance all these needs against bloat).

    On specific point - I use the taskbar on the left of the screen rather than at the bottom.  This is because I generally need more vertical room (for text documents) than horizontal.  This is exacerbated by the shift to widescreens.  However, the interface is not always consistent - some maximized windows go offscreen.  Not sure if this is a Windows or application flaw, but it does mean time spent re-sizing rather than working.

  • I forgot to say: Alt-Tab is a great device, as are other keyboard shortcuts (e.g., to open new or duplicate tabs, or [Win]+M for desktop).  What we need now is a consistent key combination to switch between tabs within an application.

    As you keep Windows click-friendly, please don't forget about us keyboard users (as Office 2007 seems to have done in part).  I was glad to see mention of this in your note.

  • Hi all!

    I've been following this blog since it started a couple of months ago, and I'm really happy with the stuff I've seen, about you guys listening and participating with the community. Nice. =)

    here are my 2 cents on this topic: I don't use the taskbar. In fact I hate it. I only use the (system tray) windows taskbar notification area. I know there probably aren't many like me but I would really like it if I had the option of removing the taskbar completely and leaving only the WTNA. Take a look at the guys at KDE. with their version 4.1.1 they're getting real close to having averything on the desktop work like a widget. It would be real nice of you to go in this direaction :)

    Best Regards!

  • Hi all!

    I've been following this blog since it started a couple of months ago, and I'm really happy with the stuff I've seen, about you guys listening and participating with the community. Nice. =)

    here are my 2 cents on this topic: I don't use the taskbar. In fact I hate it. I only use the (system tray) windows taskbar notification area. I know there probably aren't many like me but I would really like it if I had the option of removing the taskbar completely and leaving only the WTNA. Take a look at the guys at KDE. with their version 4.1.1 they're getting real close to having averything on the desktop work like a widget. It would be real nice of you to go in this direction :)

    Best Regards!

  • (sorry for the double post, I've been reading through the blog and didn't realize there was a follow up to this topic)

    My one real critique of the Programs Menu, in any of its iterations, is that there is a whole lot more than just programs on it. There are help files and uninstallers to name just a couple common items.

    When I first used a linux distro the thing that stuck with me was that the application menu only had links to executables! Windows keeps track of uninstallers and has for some time, and does so in a user friendly manner. An app has its own ways of presenting help, how accessible this is prior to running any given program I don't know since I can't even remember the last time I looked at a Windows application's help file unless I accidentally pressed F1.

    The programs menu seems so much simpler and cleaner once I've distilled it to just application shortcuts. I'm certainly no expert on UI, but this seems like a very positive change, of course it is a rather drastic one too, but it couldn't hurt to look into.

  • Please remove this Documents, Pictures, Music folders. Personally I don't know anyone who use those folders for storing personal data.  They are useless. Those are just places where the user can let all kind of different application to throw trash into them. They are good for garbage bin but they should not be in the start menu. However the user should be able to place any folder into the quick list.

  • I have been using dual side-by-side monitors for years now, and from the outset was dis-satisfied with a taskbar aligned horizontally on one monitor.

    I quickly decided that a vertical alignment on the left-hand monitor allowed for the best visibility of running programs, and my taskbar is set to always-on-top and auto-hide. With this setting, I can allow it to open to about 5 centimetres, without inconvenience, as it simply disappears as soon as it has served its purpose.

    I have also created a Desktop toolbar, and hide the icons on my desktop. Once again, it is set to always-on-top and auto-hide. Vista's insistence on keeping the Desktop toolbar on the Taskbar was a major inconvenience, as I prefer to keep it horizontally-aligned on my second (right-hand) monitor. Currently it is seven rows high. After turning many handsprings, I managed to achieve this. Surely, this feature should be a user setting.

    Finally, I set most of my Notification Area icons to Hide, a small selection to Show, and almost none to Hide when inactive. Do you think it would be possible to have Windows actually remember these settings for more than one session? (Forgive the sarcastic tone, but this has been bugging me for years, and I live in hope that the next service pack will have fixed this problem.)

    As for application windows, I have carefully arranged my major apps so that they always open in a specific position on a particular monitor, and they always ovelap in such a way that each applicaion is partially visible, no matter how many layers overlap it. As a result, a single click in a visible patch, and the requred app comes to the top.

    Ultimately, what it comes down to is flexibility. I realise that my preferred arrangement is not going to suit everyone, but I do not expect Windows to arbitrarily insist that my preference be no longer available. By all means offer new features in line with the many thoughtful suggestions above, but in doing so, please do not overlook those who wish to use layout options currently available.

  • Here is my comment to improve the taskbar:

    1).- There is too much text in start menu and taskbar, with icons al tooltips is sufficient, and this leave more space to more application

    2).- For Taskbar, with thumbails (and a small icon in the corner) with zoom will be a great improvement (look objectdock or rocketdock), equal for QuickLaunch where apply (ex. shortcut to Files).

    3).- In send to (popup menu), add a "Send to Quick Launch".

    4).- Add Stack to QuickLaunch, this si very impressive and useful and is done in windows of objectdock or rocketdock, but will be ideal see as part of windows

  • You listed two bad options:

    Spanned taskbar (Annoyingly large.)

    Split Taskbar (Annoyingly complicated)

    Good Option:

    The clone.

    I have two 24" Monitors at work and at home I use a 17" small monitor and a 52" Television as my primary monitor.

    What I want is to be able to have the same taskbar at both monitors. If I sit down at my desktop I want to be able to move windows over to my little monitor.  If I'm using the 52" LCD I want to be able to move them back.

    This applies at work too.  I would love to be able to use my taskbar exactly the same on either monitor.  Just clone it!

  • After see the PDC DEMO of windows 7, all of the thing are better, taskbar is a improvement of but gadget sidebar all time in desktop is useless, this add dissorder to desktop, a better approach is something like the dashboar or a easy way to display or hide the gadgets without see all time in my desktop. See

  • I missed this, but since I'm the one quoted about multi-monitor, I'd like to respond.  Of course there is complexity and lots of choices.  But picking somehting that is likely to satisfy 50%+ of the users is better than doing nothing and having everyone unhappy.

    You need to have display profiles.  You need to let the user pick the monitor where the main taskbar will appear.  As an option, exend the taskbar to all screens and show the tasks that are running on that screen on the taskbar on that screen, or when a user is working on a screen show all tasks on that screen.

    Not that hard to do something that will satisfy 75% of us.

  • How about virtual desktops support? (or work-spaces)

    Once you've used that in Linux, it's hard to work without it.

  • Most of the problems that you have raised with implementing these new features can be solved with one thing: options. Options are what sets Windows apart from Mac. The more options, the better in my view.

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